Last May, AMC movie news had the opportunity to visit the set of the sequel to 2011's live-action/CGI animation hybrid "The Smurfs". The second in a planned trilogy from Sony Pictures animation, "The Smurfs 2" filmed in part in Montreal, where we were able to tour the sets, speak with stars Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson, meet the cats who play Azrael, as well as several ducks. Here's five things we learned:
1) The Smurfs are gearing up for a global adventure. As mentioned, we visited the set in beautiful Montreal, Canada, which was standing in for Paris, where much of the film takes place. But the Smurfs traveled to France as well. In fact, this is the first production ever granted permission to shoot in the famous Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris. Why would they need to be there?
Well, in the film, Gargamel has become a hugely successful performer, the world's "most famous sorcerer," in fact. He lives in a lavish apartment with portraits of he and Azrael covering the walls. As Hank Azaria tells us, Azrael is the brains behind his celebrity wizard operation. He doesn't really understand that he is performing, and is more interested in his secret lair below the Opera house, where he is free to conduct all of his acts of iniquity and dark sorcery in privacy. There he lurks like the infamous phantom of the opera before him, and plots to steal Smurf essence - unlike the phantom.
Side note: Azaria plays the relationship between Gargamel and the cat as if they are an old married couple often throws in improvisational lines referencing their unusual dynamic during takes in the hopes that they will make it into the final film. His "I wish I could quit you" to Azrael was one of the funnier moments in the first film. The actor hopes to get a "you left it on my side of the sink," or more direct, on this one. Time will tell. Back to the lair!
We watched Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson, who play's Harris' stepfather in the film, shoot a scene on the soundstage where Gargamel's lair was built. The set did indeed have the look of an elaborate stage production of Phantom of the Opera, fully equipped with waterways for easy evil villainy travel. We wontheir scene involved a battle of good versus evil which takes place at the conclusion of the film. We only hope they don't get too Smurfed-up in the fight.
2) "Smurfette will discover and embrace her dark side in the film," director Raja Gosnell tells us. The film will ask and answer the question: "Why one female?" murfette originally, before Papa magically converted her into a real Smurf, and what is he after? Enter new cast members Christina Ricci and J. B. Smoove. Gargamel creates Hackus (Smoove) and Vexy (Ricci), a couple of mischievous, Smurf-like creatures that he calls the Naughties. His hope is to finally be able to harness the magical Smurf essence, without having to actually handle any Smurfs.
To his dismay, he discovers that only a real Smurf can give him what he wants, and the Naughties are a pale grey rather than a magically infused blue. Only Smurfette can help him to discover how to transform the Naughties into real Smurfs. So Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette, bringing her to Paris, where she lets her inner bad girl out and, eventually, must reconcile her past and present.
3) There is a parallel storyline about blended families in the film. Patrick (Harris), who was struggling to come to grips with becoming a dad in the last film, is confronted with his rocky relationship with his stepfather in this one.
"Patrick’s big thing is accepting family regardless of its structure" Harris says. "Because he feels slighted by the change in paternity in his childhood, his dad splitting and this other person coming in and claiming ownership which is a universal feeling. Now that he's a father, it informs how he parents and he realizes that Smurfette isn't a real Smurf, and yet she is a part of the family, and Papa is a father to her. It’s a lesson that Patrick needs to learn to reconnect him with his own stepfather."
For her part, Smurfette has Gargamel who created her, and Papa who loves her, so the film in some ways is about what it really means to be a father.
4) They've tried to age the film, and up the ante on the humor for this next installment. Gosnell says that they are taking an approach that is similar to the one used in the Harry Potter films. He says it is, more emotional and funnier, along. In short, they are aging the story as they move forward. The third film will find Gargamel in an existential crisis, unsure of why he even started to chase the Smurfs to begin with. From there it will travel back in time to discover why his family began hating and hunting Smurfs in the first place, and why they were made blue to begin with. So ita prequel of sorts.
Harris isn't sure if he's doing the 3rd film, but he would like to see, or if he were a Smurf, be "magical Smurf, with a little bag of magical tricks."
5) The cast says that the production is Smurfier this time around. "We all feel a little more confident on this one, Harris says "Because we were witness to how the last one turned out. It was not only as a successful film, but also when your acting and trying to imagine things you get to watch and go 'Oh, I see, that's how they looked.'"
Azaria notes that everyone has a clearer vision of how things should operate, from the director, to the production designers, to the actors who are manning and voicing the little Smurf maquettes that they use on to give the live-action actors something to work against. The actor feels that he has a much clearer handle on how to play Gargamel this time around. "I wanted to play him dry originally, kind of sarcastic and understated, says. But I learned that you almost cano too much with this character. On the last film, the best takes were the ones that I would be embarrassed after doing."
Newcomer Gleeson describes his character as, "goofy and an innocent". He recalls that he was originally tense about walking line between innocent and idiot. "You have to trust a lot of people to make that work," the actor says. "It could get really cheesy, or interesting. It depends on people around you." One fun twist on his character is that he is transmuted into a duck for a portion of the story, which should create for even more antics for the Smurfs and Patrick. Gleeson said he spent some time with his duck counterpart and found the experience to be magical. We actually got to hold some of the trained animals, an experience which was, in a word, Smurfy.
Oh, and one more thing, Jimmy Kimmel voices Passive Aggressive Smurf, who was mentioned in passing in the last film. So its got that going for it. Which is nice.
"Smurfs 2" opens in AMC Theatres on July 31.
**This article was written by Roth Cornet, who is now an Entertainment Editor at IGN Entertainment**
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